Japan approves Fukushima plant water discharge preparation stage

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s nuclear regulator yesterday approved details of a planned discharge of treated radioactive wastewater from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea next year.

Approval by the Nuclear Regulatory Authority will allow Tokyo Electric Power Co to begin building the necessary facilities before the release. It came two months after a preliminary green light and subsequent public review process.

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO) submitted the plan in December based on a government decision last year to discharge sewage as a necessary step for the ongoing dismantling of the plant.

A massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011 destroyed the cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, causing a triple meltdown and releasing large amounts of radiation.

The water that was used to cool the three damaged reactor cores, which remain highly radioactive, has since seeped into the basements of the reactor buildings but has been collected and stored in tanks.

Local fishing communities and neighboring countries have raised concerns about potential health risks from radioactive wastewater, which TEPCO and government officials say will be treated at levels well below discharge standards. They argue that the environmental and health impacts will be negligible.

Tanks storing water that has been treated but is still radioactive after being used to cool spent fuel at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma city, Fukushima prefecture, northeast Japan. PHOTO: AP

Japan’s nuclear authority chairman Toyoshi Fuketa told reporters yesterday that the release plan presented no major technical or safety issues. He said regulators will ensure approved procedures are strictly followed with transparency.

The government and TEPCO have said that of more than 60 isotopes selected for processing, all but one, tritium, will be reduced to meet safety standards.

The scientists said the impacts of long-term, low-dose exposure to tritium on the environment and humans are still unknown. Tritium affects humans more when consumed in fish, they said.

The contaminated water is stored in approximately 1,000 tanks at the damaged plant. Officials say they must be removed so that facilities can be built for its dismantling. The tanks are expected to reach their capacity of 1.37 million tonnes next year.

TEPCO said it plans to transport the treated, releasable water through a pipeline from the reservoirs to an onshore facility, where it will be diluted with seawater and then sent through an underwater tunnel with an outlet. about a kilometer away to minimize the impact on local fishing and the environment.

The government and TEPCO have yet to obtain local consent for the construction of the tunnel and other related facilities. They plan to start gradually releasing the treated water in the spring of 2023.

Japan has requested assistance from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to ensure that the release of water meets international safety standards and reassure local fishermen and other neighboring communities and countries who are opposed to the plan.

IAEA experts visited the plant earlier this year and said Japan was taking appropriate action for the expected release.

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